An NCAA rule forbidding high school tournaments in college arenas forced the Holiday Hoops Invitational to Eastern High School’s Don Johnson Field House last year.
While it served as a classic venue in a gymnasium full of history, East Lansing High School was determined to get the boys basketball tournament back to its Breslin Center roots.
Back as fall sports were still going on, East Lansing athletic director Tom Hunt and Holiday Hoops coordinator Mike Borek worked together beginning in October to clear the event location and the sponsor with the NCAA.
That wasn’t done in time for the event last year, as the NCAA’s ruling came down right before the showcase was set to be played.
“We did say that we’d go ahead last year, but then the NCAA just didn’t allow it to happen,” Hunt said. “Mike gave me a call (in October) and asked the same thing and said that the NCAA would allow it if a local school took it on.”
This year’s event will return to the Breslin Center and will feature a lineup of six games beginning at 11 a.m. today. Eight of the 12 participating teams hailing from the mid-Michigan area.
“I think the lure of the tournament or the event is to have it on the campus and on the Breslin Center floor,” Hunt said. “These kids want to play where the college kids play. It’s kind of special and right now only the kids that make it to the state semifinals get that opportunity, so I guess this is a chance for more schools and teams to get involved and play on that floor.”
The Trojans got a chance to play at Breslin in 2010 while also playing in last year’s event at Don Johnson Field House. East Lansing coach Steve Finamore remembered the disappointed mood from his seniors that were looking forward to playing on the Michigan State campus before the event was suddenly moved away.
“The kids were bummed out last year. This year they’re so excited. It’s a lifetime memory,” Finamore said. “The Breslin is a great experience for kids, because obviously only the final four get there and I’m going to give every kid the experience of a lifetime. … I’m going to try and get every player on my team out on that floor.”
“They’re really fired up. We haven’t focused on it much because we’ve had so many tough league challenges ahead of us, but it’s going to be really fun. It’s going to be fun to get there in front of our town,” Holt coach Matt Essell said about the event and his team’s matchup with St. Johns.
Hunt said the school’s sponsorship of the event will be evaluated after this year and the goal will be to look to the future for a more consistent and long-term sponsor.
Tickets will be available for $12 at the Breslin Center doors.